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The main hall of the Shakh's synagogue in Holešov is one of the major Jewish heritage sites in the Czech Republic.
© Vratislav Brázdil

Shakh’s synagogue

A Jewish community appeared in Holesov as early as the 15th century, from which sprang the noted 17th century Jewish scholar and rabbi Shabbatai HaKohen, who became known as Rabbi Shakh. About 1700 Jews still lived there in the 19th century. However, the Nazis destroyed the community during World War II. The local cemetery, with 1500 gravestones, and the synagogue are among the most precious and oldest elements of Jewish heritage in the Czech Republic.

Built in 1560, Shakh’s synagogue is the fourth oldest synagogue in the Czech Republic, but the second oldest to retain its original character. The current interior comes from the 1730’s when the synagogue underwent a major reconstruction, during which the existing Polish-type baroque decorations were created—such ornaments exist in few other synagogues in the world. In 1893 the local Jews built a new reformed synagogue that became the main synagogue in the community. Until the 1920’s, the “old one” was used only by the senior members of the community for traditional orthodox services. After that it was used mainly as storage and the first floor was rented as a flat until 1955. This disuse prevented damage to the synagogue during World War II.

Shabbatai HaKohen was a famous 17th century Jewish scholar who lived and worked in Holešov. He became known as the Shakh, an abbreviation of his most important work, Siftei Kohen (literally Lips of the Priest).
Shabbatai HaKohen was a famous 17th century Jewish scholar who lived and worked in Holešov. He became known as the Shakh, an abbreviation of his most important work, Siftei Kohen (literally Lips of the Priest).

In the following years of the socialist era, when most the other synagogues were repurposed, mostly as granaries or storage areas, the synagogue in Holešov was the only one that was reconstructed, and in 1964 it opened to the public with an exhibition titled Jews in Moravia.

The study room on the first floor of the Shakh's synagogue in Holešov with some of the books written by Rabbi Shakh. – © Archive of the Shakh's synagogue
The study room on the first floor of the Shakh's synagogue in Holešov with some of the books written by Rabbi Shakh. – © Archive of the Shakh's synagogue

The first floor of the synagogue, which originally served as a Talmudic study, now again serves as a study, after a partial reconstruction in 2016. Jewish visitors can study Shakh’s book directly in the place where he worked and lived. The study includes a small exhibition on Rabbi Shakh. It has a beautifully decorated 18th century timber ceiling with the so-called Polish ornaments.

The synagogue is currently the property of the Jewish Community of Brno, and it is managed by the Municipal Cultural Centre of Holešov. Since there is no living Jewish community in Holešov, the synagogue is mainly used as a heritage object. However, it is more than a museum. Holešov's connection with Rabbi Shakh has made it an important spiritual destination for Jewish tourists from around the world, who visit Rabbi Shakh’s grave and pray in the synagogue where he prayed. Thus, the synagogue still fulfils its original purpose.

The grave of Rabbi Shakh at the Jewish cemetery and the synagogue in Holešov attract many visitors from all over the world. – © Vratislav Brázdil
The grave of Rabbi Shakh at the Jewish cemetery and the synagogue in Holešov attract many visitors from all over the world. – © Vratislav Brázdil

The synagogue is open to the public with guided tours and hosts an annual Festival of Jewish Culture each summer.

Many World Heritage sites are temporarily closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please check official websites for more information.

Visit

Shakh’s synagogue

Hours

April + October:
Saturday + Sunday
9:00 – 12:00, 13:00 – 17:00;
May – September:
Tuesday – Sunday
9:00 – 12:00, 13:00 – 17:00

Pricing

Adults 90 CZK;
children, students, seniors 40 CZK;
Family admission 190 CZK